Treblinka was an extermination camp
, during the Second World War
. In 1941, a forced labor camp
was built 50 miles northeast of Warsaw
. This was known as Treblinka I
. Within a year, a second camp was built, Treblinka II. Treblinka II, constructed using Polish and Jewish prisoners, served as an elimination center
for the Jews
of central Europe
. Treblinka II opened on July 23, 1942, as the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto
began. The perimeter of the camp was surrounded by two barbed wire
Treblinka was similar to other death camps: as trainloads of people arrived at the camp (usually around five thousand people at one time), an SS officer told them they had arrived at a transit camp. Prisoners were then moved through a selection process in which women and children were separated from the men. The very sick were taken to a pit and shot. Everyone had their head shaved, and they would later be directed to the gas chambers.
Treblinka opened with three gas chambers in operation but quickly expanded to at least six. On the front wall of one of Treblinka's gas houses was hung the Star of David, and the Hebrew inscriptions on the curtain that hung at the entrance read, "This is the gate through which the righteous pass."
The camp was initially supervised by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Imfried Eberl. SS-Obersturmfuhrer Franz Stangl replaced him in August 1942. The camp was staffed by a combination of Germans, Ukrainians and Jewish prisoners. Twenty or thirty SS men served as the leadership in the camp. Ninety to one hundred and twenty Ukrainians acted as camp guards, security personnel and other jobs like operating the gas chambers. Many Jews performed the manual labour, such as tending to the guards' needs, and emptying the trains of corpses.
By September 21, 1942, some 245,000 Warsaw Jews and 112,000 Jews from other places in the Warsaw district were murdered in Treblinka. Overall, nearly 750,000 Polish Jews were murdered in Treblinka, as well as Jews from Slovakia, Greece, and Macedonia and the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In addition to the Jews, some 2,000 gypsies were killed in Treblinka. Most people died within two hours of arriving at the camp.
There were some acts of resistance in Treblinka. In August, 1943, the biggest took place. A group of fifty to seventy prisoners decided to steal weapons, and destroy camp installations, allowing the escape of prisoners from the camp. A suspicious SS guard, however, forced them into action sooner than they anticipated, and some of them opened fire and set camp buildings on fire. Many prisoners climbed the fences to escape, but were mostly shot down by guards on the ground and in watch towers. Of the seven hundred and fifty who tried to escape, only seventy did.
In the autumn of 1943 the camp was evacuated. Orders were given to destroy the camp so that no trace of its existence would remain. Although a lot was destroyed, parts of the camp, such as the railway station, remain.
You can visit Treblinka today. Visitors enter the camp through the same spot where deported Jews and others exited the trains. It is quite a powerful experience.